Circle of 5ths

There is a lot of bad information floating around out there.

The age-old myth about Pythagoras and inventing the circle of 5ths comes from a old story about him hearing blacksmith’s hammers producing harmonic frequency ratios in proportion to their masses, which is wrong, because hammer heads vibrate irregularly, unlike strings which vibrate regularly( at integer ratios). He may discovered the phenomenon with strings, however.

The thing to note about Pythagoras is that the earliest mention of him is by Cicero over 500 years after Pythagoras’ death. That would be like me being the first authoritative source on something from the early 1500’s, and being cited for it in the year 4017.

The origins of the diatonic scale stretch back into prehistory. Most cultures’s music incorporate something like it or the pentatonic scale. These distance between the steps in these scales come directly from the harmonic series, and it is very natural if you are inventing music for the first time to sing something like one of these scales. Some animals (bird songs for example) will make noises at intervals of octaves 5ths or major 3rds.

The diatonic scale existed without the other 5 notes or any other notion of keys up all through ancient Greece and Rome and all through the Medieval period. Most of their music had simple simple harmony and they either sang or played solo, or when they made music together they sang in unison or octaves, and eventually 5ths.

But as somewhere after the 11th century when music notation began to take shape it became possible for people to play and sing in large groups and to have different parts with complex harmonies and counterpoint. Instrumental groups had to tune their instruments to one another and singers had defined vocal ranges. As they started building pipe organs pitches became quasi fixed. Until the Renaissance transposing music into a different key had the singular function of fitting to a singer’s vocal range.

With no notion of accidentals yet, musicians used modes instead of keys for tonal-like effects. There was an authentic mode and a plagal mode for C through A (no locrian or hypolocrian because tritone) which determined whether you ended on I or IV.

Eventually near the beginning of the renaissance some clever folks figured our that you could transpose these modes to star on any note, if you just added half steps in between the existing 7 notes. There’s a lovly treatise on it called Dodecachordon written in 1547 by Heinrich Glarean id you feel like reading a butt-load of Latin. Eventually they learned that playing a melody in a mode, and then playing that melody on the note a 5th above the original mode’s tonic sounded good and strong so they called it modulating to the dominant key, which was now possible because of the addition of those 5 other notes.

The actual circle of 5ths didn’t show up until the 1670s in a treatise called Grammatika by Nikolai Diletskii and from here on music theory begins to take on familiar form, although things like functional harmony don’t show up like we know them today, until the 18th and 19th centuries with people like Jean-Philippe Rameau and later Hugo Riemann.

Until the mid 19th century all tuning of all instruments in practice was done by ear. There was no objective was to measure pitch until after the industrial revolution. The cent is directly related to the system of equal temperement and is a 1/100th of a perfectly equally tempered semitone. Equal temperment is a compromise in tuning that makes it possible to play in all the keys without re-tuning keyboard instrument. Cents do not exist until the 1830s.

There is a great video on early music temperaments here by Early Music Sources:

This is the type of instrument they were building to get around the comma issue.

On this keyboard the circle of 5ths wraps around 3 times before coming back to the original note. But the 3rds are more in tune in all keys(and you have 8 different types of 3rds including major and minor).

Maybe I’ll make some videos on all of this some day.

Tragedy at Sea

Editors Note: My great-grandfather Errold H. Scott (1906-1988) typed this story about the sinking of the schooner Portland in 1898. It is told through the eyes of his father Charles A. Scott who is my great-great-grandfather. I have transcribed the story exactly as it appears on the original typewritten page, with the exception of two or three typographical corrections. There is no date on the original document indicating when it was written, but I have been unable to find any indication that it was ever published before. As such the following story is being published as public domain material and may not be copyrighted.

In the year 1898 my dad, Charles A. Scott was a seaman, working on his father’s vessel and was 18 years of age at the time. They were delivering a load of stone from Stonington, Maine and would unload at Boston, Mass. It had been a long trip but finally they arrived a short distance approaching Boston harbor. A soft snow had started to flutter down and the flakes were thickening as my grandfather came midship and called to my dad who was checking the port light which had been giving trouble. The light would sometimes black out at the most unexpected times. My dad told him that the light was functioning perfectly. However as he looked to the port light again the light blacked out. He went forward immediately and relit the lamp and at thus minute a blast came out of the snow storm, in a second the schooner Portland appeared off their port bow. The ship kept bearing to the starboard side showing that she had sighted them through the snow. As she passed about 50 feet away, you could make out and see the young men on the stern of the boat waving and shouting to them.

Soon the Portland was blocked out by a blanket of snow. My dad mentioned that his father said “Where do you suppose he thinks he’s going in a storm like this”. Leaving the scene of the Portland they proceeded into Boston harbor, and although they dropped anchor the ship kept dragging anchor until my father gave the order to let the cage anchor go and this held fast. A number of ships were making for the harbor and by the time they had entered, the storm had increased so that some of them were having difficulty holding their ships by anchor and the storm carried them to the other end of the bay where they went ashore. About three o’clock in the morning the storm peaked right over the harbor and it was difficult to keep the waves from breaking over the aft cabin, water and snow running down the stairway and seeping right onto the stove in the galley. They were up at daylight and could see the ships that had gone ashore in the night before. The stove in the galley which had been covered with salt-water was in a terrible shape and was covered in rust.

A ship ready to leave the harbor slowed down and came on side and gave them the news that the Portland and two other ships were lost. She must have gone down somewhere near The Graves as bodies were washing ashore near this section. A large number of people that night and it was thought at first the captain would not leave Boston, but he had a call from Portland telling him it was clear in that area so he decided to leave for Portland. Among the passengers that were aboard that night was Oren Hooper and his grandson, the owner of Hooper and Son Furniture Store, which was located on middle near free street. They had been to Boston and he had taken his grandson along. Oren Hooper’s son was the father of the boy.

This tragic event will go down in history as one of the great sea-disasters of our time.

Crap. What am I doing with this site?!

Well I started the “essays” section of the site as a place for things that were roughly nonfiction, somewhat philosophical, and definitely not a blog. But honestly that’s a bit arrogant of me, and as the muse of philosophical nonfiction hasn’t payed me a visit in a while, I thought I’d turn this into something that’s still not a blog (I don’t have a blog), but which is a bit more blogish in nature.

What am I doing with this site. Ad Absurdum publishing? What the hell’s that. What do you publish? Are you a publishing company? No, and no. I had all sorts of stuff that I wanted to publish…. Until I made it easy and created this stupid website.

There’ll probably be some activity over on N7275 Aerospace within a few months or so…maybe. I’ve got a couple of projects I’d like to work on, but there are some writing projects that need to get finished first.

I may put up a music section too, but I need to figure out how to do it making the PHP/SQL too obscene. If the database system I come up with works well for the music, I’ll use it to publish some of my short fiction here as well.

Check out this piece I wrote for Piano/Organ:

It’s pretty cool. More to follow.

How to Write a Story

1. Introduction

It should be obvious that a thoroughly formulaic approach to any form of art would be absurd. And I’m sure even this will draw its critics and detractors. So let me get this out of the way forthwith: if it don’t work for you, don’t take my my advice. I mean that will the utmost respect to people who have their own system.

There’s a sea of bad writing advice out there and I’d hate to contribute to it. It ranges from condemnation of semicolons and adverbs to don’t worldbuild to worldbuild a lot. And, while there’s certainly wisdom in all of it, it’s rarely the golden ticket to secucess that amature writers would like it to be. To my earlier point, this is not “How you should write a story”. I’m not telling you that this is the only way to write a story or the only way to write well. What do I know anyway; I’ve never published a book, just a few essays here and there. I don’t like every author’s writing, why should I like every author’s writing advice. Honestly, I’ve found better advice in just-published authors and in editors than I have in the well-published authors.

A few other things I’d like to get out of the way before we delve headlong into the remainder of this essay.

Word count is a metric I use often, and will use often through this piece. There are error bars on word count. For example, one could write an 80,000 word novel and a 90,000 word novel, and have them both be good, publishable, readable, and convey the same amount of information. The difference between the two works is “in the noise”. However, it’s a very different case between 400 word flash fiction, and 400,000 word tome. The latter two are fundamentally different things. This is important. If you want to write a story, you need to understand what it is fundamentally. Word count is a great way to quantify this in the planning stage because it allows you to do two things, predict how long something will take to write, and, more importantly, how long it will it will take to read.

If you want people to read your writing, it must be something that people want to read. This should be so obvious as to be syllogistic. The less-discussed side of this is that, as an artist, sometimes you have to say things that that people don’t want to hear. Your job as an artist is to get people to want to read something you think they need to hear, but which you don’t think they would listen to if presented unartistically. Aside: If you were looking for a meaning or a purpose for art, look no further.

2. The Idea

Some people outline, some people don’t. If your method doesn’t involve outlining, that’s fine. But know that you will do orders of magnitude more work in terms of rewriting many iterations of the story. If this works for you, and you’re able to write a publishworthy story, than stop here. What you’re doing is working. If however you’re trying the no-outline method and giving up on every story you write between 1,000 and 10,000 words, then read on.

This method posits the idea as the basis for a story. A story idea is the shortest anecdotal version of a story you want to tell. It is a premise upon which to build an argument. It is a basis upon which to justify the telling. Don’t misunderstand me, not all stories need to be allegorical (at least, intentionally and explicitly; we can revisit the unintention and the implicit in a discussion of the value of art). The idea is “what the story is about”. The idea is the writing prompt you’d write if you wanted someone else to be able to write your story for you.

Ideas should be easy. They should be the easiest part of the writing process. You don’t necessarily need a great idea to write a great story. So where do ideas come from? Your life and other art you’ve seen, generally. What do you like; what do you hate; what do you want; what do you value; what have you done; what do you want to do; what have you seen others do; who’s your favorite character, and why. Make a damn list. It doesn’t have to be a full-on manifesto, but it should be what you’re about. If you don’t have something to say, find something. Even if it’s something that’s already been said, say it better. Free writing can help. Essaying on a nonfiction topic can too. Don’t wait until you have something to say it; find something to say.

My ideas are usually begin in the form:

“Bob wanted to buy bread from the baker, but couldn’t.”

There’s ten goddamn words folks, it don’t get more simpler than that. It isn’t brilliant. It isn’t profound but it makes you ask why. The answers to this question will come from “what you’re about”. Justify your premise. You can do it in 100 or 100,000 words, it just depends on how you want to answer. People like to say that the story is about the conflict. I disagree. I think a story is about the premise; conflict is about justifying the premise.

3. The Outline

Like I said previously, I think you need an outline. This is an effort that will take on the order of months to years to complete. If you can charge head-long into other projects of this magnitude, stay on task, complete them on time, and produce a decent product at the end, like I said, read no further.

The outlining process requires knowledge of information quantity and structure. The reason to outline is the same reason that books have chapters, and chapters will often have scenes. You and the people who will read your writing need big pieces of information broken down into manageable pieces of information. The complexity of your outline will depend upon the scope of the process.

The basis of my story structure is the scene. My scenes are typically 1000 to 2500 words long. Character creation is also important at this point as well. Character and scene creation can feel a bit chicken-and-egg, and that’s okay. The outlining process should undergo several revisions just like the story. A scene description will usually include: who’s in the scene, where it takes place, what it accomplishes with respect to the premise of the story.

Flash fiction stories will often take place in only one scene. Short stories will often take place over the course of several scenes. Novels and novelæ are larger and will often bundle several scenes into chapters. Don’t lose sight of the general direction toward the resolution of the premise of the story as you move up in hierarchy. It’s okay if a scene or five take a detour from the premise (one could imagine a literal detour in a travelogue). Detours can add conflict if the scene acknowledges it, and can thus serve to justify the premise.

As you put scenes together, start assembling them into an arc. Know what gets pared with what. Spacing your detours appropriately will allow you to manage your reader’s attention span so they don’t get bored or confused with your story.

4. Writing

I usually start writing with the first scene. It usually wasn’t the first scene outlined, but writing the scenes in the order they will appear is a great way to prevent huge amounts of rewriting. Writing itself is something you can only get good at by doing it, whether that be in the form of storytelling, essaying, peer-reviewed articles, or writing technical manuals. Treat the outline and the premise dynamically while writing. Make changes where it suits you.

After you’re done with your first draft, make a summary of it. This will essentially be an outline for your second draft, and will be much easier to tweak than the whole body of text. Repeat the rewriting process until you have something publishworthy.

5. Final Notes

I wrote this guide for myself. If it works for you than please use it. I see a lot of people struggle with writing, and I’d love to be a help to someone. Writing your own how-to guide might help.

New Site

The new site is online at

I’ve added a wiki for my fictional world Lek at Lek is an experiment in worldbuilding and philosophy. I’ll be posting essays, short stories, and philosophy here. The wiki is a long, ongoing process. Expect this to be more formal, and the wiki to have a more casual tone.

The goal is to update weekly; we’ll see how that goes.


It would be very easy not to write this.It would be very easy not to say what needs to be said. It would be all too easy, and indeed it is too easy for far too many people, to pretend reality doesn’t exist and hide their heads from all that is.

But there is hope, for if there weren’t I would not write this here today, for there are those like you and I. There are those whom Nietzsche called the “free spirits”. They are those who are the questioners, the seekers of knowledge, and the eschewers of dogma. It is for this reason that I shall refrain from ever telling the reader what one should do—or create philosophical dogma.

This is not a rejection of objective reality. It is a recognition of the nature of philosophy per se. Philosophy means “The love of wisdom”. To love wisdom is to judge as a value, with all that one is, the unending pursuit of the knowledge of that which one does not know.

Philosophy is the fight against dogma and superstition and prejudice. The philosophical battle is not winnable. To win the fight is a logical impossibility; “to win philosophy ” is the ultimate contradiction of terms. To win is to reach the ultimate state of. To reach the ultimate state of loving wisdom—to reach the ultimate state of the pursuit of the knowledge of all that which one does not know—is to know of all unknown things. Syllogistically, to know all unknowns is to know all. And to judge oneself as knowing all—to judge oneself by an irrational standard of a non-existent state of perfection—is to love wisdom the least.

One may choose to fight the philosophical battle, or one may choose not to. One may chose to maintain one’s mental and physical health,  and fight until the last breath against the inevitable forces of death and decay, or one may choose not to. One is free to choose by the freedom of their will to fight or not to fight in either case

To choose not to maintain one’s health is to choose not to maintain one’s existence; it is to decide that one is not fit to exist within reality(which is to choose not to exist per se). If chooses not to value wisdom and to reproach all but dogma and prejudice, than one has decided that reality—all that is—is not fit for them to exist within. They are one and the same.

Reality exists; I exist. Those are a priori. I have decided that we are fit for one another.

And that is why I still fight.